Monthly Archives: December 2020
The authors of this review wanted to determine similarities and differences in the reasons for using or not using so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) amongst general and condition-specific populations, and amongst populations in each region of the globe.
Quantitative or qualitative original articles in English, published between 2003 and 2018 were reviewed. Conference proceedings, pilot studies, protocols, letters, and reviews were excluded. Papers were appraised using valid tools and a ‘risk of bias’ assessment was also performed. Thematic analysis was conducted. Reasons were coded in each paper, then codes were grouped into categories. If several categories reported similar reasons, these were combined into a theme. Themes were then analysed using χ2 tests to identify the main factors related to reasons for CAM usage.
A total of 231 publications were included. Reasons for SCAM use amongst general and condition-specific populations were similar. The top three reasons were:
- (1) having an expectation of benefits of SCAM (84% of publications),
- (2) dissatisfaction with conventional medicine (37%),
- (3) the perceived safety of SCAM (37%).
Internal health locus of control as an influencing factor was more likely to be reported in Western populations, whereas the social networks was a common factor amongst Asian populations (p < 0.05). Affordability, easy access to SCAM and tradition were significant factors amongst African populations (p < 0.05). Negative attitudes towards SCAM and satisfaction with conventional medicine were the main reasons for non-use (p < 0.05).
The authors concluded that dissatisfaction with conventional medicine and positive attitudes toward SCAM, motivate people to use SCAM. In contrast, satisfaction with conventional medicine and negative attitudes towards SCAM are the main reasons for non-use.
At this point, I thought: so what? This is all very obvious and does not necessitate an extensive review of the published literature. What it actually shows is that the realm of SCAM is obsessed with conducting largely useless surveys, a phenomenon, I once called ‘survey mania‘. But a closer look at the review does reveal some potentially interesting findings.
In less developed parts of the world, like Africa, SCAM use seems to be determined by affordability, accessibility and tradition. This makes sense and ties in with my impression that consumers in such countries would give up SCAM as soon as they can afford proper medicine.
This notion seems to be further supported by the reasons for not using SCAM. Asian consumers claim overwhelmingly that this is because they consider SCAM ineffective and unsafe.
In our review of 2011 (not cited in the new review), we looked at some of the issues from a slightly different angle and evaluated the expectations of SCAM users. Seventy-three articles met our inclusion criteria of our review. A wide range of expectations emerged. In order of prevalence, they included:
- the hope to influence the natural history of the disease;
- the desire to prevent disease and promote health/general well-being;
- the hope of fewer side effects;
- the wish to be in control over one’s health;
- the hope for symptom relief;
- the ambition to boost the immune system;
- the hope to receive emotional support;
- the wish to receive holistic care;
- the hope to improve quality of life;
- the expectation to relief of side effects of conventional medicine;
- the desire for a good therapeutic relationship;
- the hope to obtain information;
- the hope of coping better with illness;
- the expectation of supporting the natural healing process;
- the availability of SCAM.
All of these aspects, issues and notions might be interesting, even fascinating to some, but we should not forget three important caveats:
- Firstly, SCAM is such a diverse area that any of the above generalisations are highly problematic; the reasons and expectations of someone trying acupuncture may be entirely different from those of someone using homeopathy, for instance.
- Secondly (and more importantly), the ‘survey mania’ of SCAM researchers has not generated the most reliable data; in fact, most of the papers are hardly worth the paper they were printed on.
- Thirdly (and even more importantly, in my view), why should any of this matter? We have known about some of these issues for at least 3 decades. Has this line of research changed anything? Has it prevented consumers getting exploited by scrupulous SCAM entrepreneurs? Has it made consumers, politicians or anyone else more aware of the risks associated with SCAM? Has it saved many lives? I doubt it!
We are all prone to fall victim to the ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc’ fallacy. It describes the erroneous assumption that something that happened after an event was cased by that event. The fallacy is essentially due to confusing correlation with causation:
- the sun does not rise because the rooster has crowed;
- yellow colouring of the 2nd and 3rd finger of a smoker is not the cause of lung cancer;
- some children developing autism after vaccinations does not mean that autism is caused by vaccination.
As I said, we are all prone to this sort of thing, even though we know better. Scientists, journal editors and reviewers of medical papers, however, should not allow themselves to be fooled by overt cases of the ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc’ fallacy. And if they do, they have lost all credibility – just like the individuals involved in a recent paper on animal homeopathy.
Pododermatitis in penguins usually occurs after changes in normal activity that result from being held captive. It is also called ‘bumlefoot’ (which fails to reflect the seriousness of the condition) and amounts to one of most frequent and important clinical complications in penguins kept in captivity or in rehabilitation centres.
This veterinary case study reports the use of oral homeopathic treatment on acute and chronic pododermatitis in five Magellanic penguins in a zoological park setting. During treatment, the patients remained in the penguins’ living area, and the effect of the treatment on the progression of their lesions was assessed visually once weekly. The treatment consisted of a combination of Arnica montana and Calcarea carbonica.
After treatment, the appearance of the lesions had noticeably improved: in the majority of penguins there was no longer evidence of infection or edema in the feet. The rate of recovery depended on the initial severity of the lesion. Those penguins that still showed signs of infection nevertheless exhibited a clear diminution of the size and thickness of the lesions. Homeopathic treatment did not cause any side effects.
The authors concluded that homeopathy offers a useful treatment option for pododermatitis in captive penguins, with easy administration and without side effects.
So, the homeopathic treatment happened before the recovery and, according to the ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc’ fallacy, the recovery must have been caused by the therapy!
I know, this is a tempting conclusion for a lay person, but it is also an unjustified one, and the people responsible for this paper are not lay people. Pododermitis does often disappear by itself, particularly if the hygenic conditions under which the penguins had been kept are improved. In any case, it is a potentially life-threatening condition (a bit like an infected bed sore in an immobilised human patient) that can be treated, and one should certainly not let a homeopath deal with it.
I think that the researchers who wrote the article, the journal editor who accepted it for publication, and the referees who reviewed the paper should all bow their heads in shame and go on a basic science course (perhaps a course in medical ethics as well) before they are let anywhere near research again.
In so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) – but certainly not just there – we regularly encouter reports about new research results that sound odd, implausible, too good to be true, or outright fantastic (like borne out of fantasy). What should one do with such news? Keep an open mind, yes sure, but what if the news leads us up the garden path? Here is what I usually do and what I recommend you might do as well:
- Check who published the story; some sources are clearly more trustworthy than others (think of ‘Natural News‘, or WDDTY, for instance).
- Try to find other outlets confirming the news; if none can be located, be extra sceptical.
- Identify the origin of the new research; an academic might be more trustworthy that a SCAM practitioner or a commercial firm.
- Find out where the study was originally published; some SCAM journals publish virtually any rubbish (think of EBCAM or JCAM).
- If you are still in doubt and continue to be interested, go on Medline and obtain the original article.
- If it’s behind a pay-wall, email the authors for a copy.
- Check the validity of the paper; this can be rather a big task for someone not trained in critical assessment of scientific papers, but there are certain pointers: in case of a clinical trial, for instance, check whether it was large or small, randomised or not, placebo-controlled or not, blind or not.
- If the findings look suspicious to you, find out more about the researchers: for example, do they have a track record of publishing results that look false-positive (think of M Frass or other members of the ‘ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE HALL OF FAME‘, for instance)?
- Identify studies by other researchers addressing the same research question; have similar findings been published, or do most of the previous investigations contradict the results of the new study?
- Find out who sponsored the new study.
- Look up what the authors declare in terms of conflicts of interest.
- If all of this leaves important questions unanswered, don’t be shy, write to the authors and ask.
When I have gone through all these steps, I usually have a fairly clear impression whether I can trust the research or not. Obviously keeping an open mind about new discoveries is sensible. But please. do remember that charlatans might (and often do) put a lot of BS in your mind, if you open it too wide for too long.
It has been reported that Karnataka’s Deputy Chief Minister, Dr CN Ashwathnarayan, has launched eight products, several of which fall in the category of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), aimed at mitigating COVID-19, developed by various start-ups at Bangalore Bioinnovation Centre (BBC). Dr CN Ashwathnarayan said the launch of the products shows that Karnataka has emerged as a leading state in developing solutions to fight the COVID 19 pandemic.
Here are short descriptions of the innovations:
- Padma Vitals +: Developed by Innovator start-up Dr. Madan Gopal of Cardiac Design labs,Padma Vitals + is a centralized monitoring system for ECG, respiration, Spo2 and body temperature, which can measure the vitals continuously and the analysis sent through telemetry, with an alerting system embedded in it. The device is much needed for contactless monitoring of patients during COVID 19 Pandemic. The product has been validated at Narayana Hrudayalaya.
- Malli’s Cordytea: Developed by Dr. Moushmi Mondal from Mallipatra Neutraceuticals, this product is an Immunity booster tea prepared from medicinal mushroom – Cordyceps. The mushroom variety grown under laboratory conditions is developed by the Innovator. Cordicepin, an active ingredient is known to have anti-viral properties too. In the COVID 19 times, it will be helpful in boosting the immunity levels. The product has been patented and is approved by FSSAI.
- CD4 Shield : Developed by Dr. Vijay Lanka and his team from Stabicon, this product is a chewable tablet containing curcumin and Vitamin B12. Both the ingredients fight inflammation and infection. The product ensures activation of innate immunity by activating CD4+, CD8+ and IFN 1 to virus specific effect and has immunomodulatory properties. It also reduces cytokine storm in response to viral infection. The product is approved by FSSAI.
- BeamRoti : Developed by Dr. Srinivas from Aspartika, the product is an immunity booster chapati having mixture of herbs recommended by AYUSH ministry. The ingredients have been prepared using supercritical fluid extraction technology to ensure optimum concentration of herbal extract reaches the body. The chapatis are easy to store with good shelf life and Patent application has been filed. The product is approved by FSSAI.
- Immune booster daily drops: Developed by Dr. Srinivas from Aspartika, the product is an immunity booster drop having mixture of herbs recommended by AYUSH ministry. The ingredients have been prepared using supercritical fluid extraction technology to ensure optimum concentration of herbal extract reaches the body by mixing just one drop of the product in a glass of hot water. The product is approved by FSSAI.
- VegPhal – Fruit and Vegetable Sanitizer: Developed by Deepak Bhajantri from Krimmi Biotech, this fruit and vegetable sanitizer is prepared using edible ingredients effective against microbes and removal of pesticides. It is chorine and alcohol free.
- Water Sanitizer – Kitchen Tap: The product is developed by Ravi Kumar from Biofi and is a miniaturized version of UV purifier that can be attached to a water tap and kill 99% of microbes including viruses such as phages.
- nti-Micobial HVAC module: The product is developed by Ravi Kumar from Biofi and is a module that can be fitted to HVAC system to ensure circulating air is sanitized. This is especially useful during COVID 19 times as many enclosed spaces in which AC circulated air may be contaminated. Based on UV-silver titanium dioxide technology, the product is patented and has been validated.
Karnataka is of course a state in the south western region of India. The region has so far about one million COVID-19 cases, while almost 12 000 people have died. One would therefore very much hope that the newly launched innovations can make a difference.
But will they?
As far as the SCAM-related products (e.g. ‘immune boosters’) are concerned, I see no convincing evidence to assume that they are effective. If anyone has information to the contrary, please let me know.
But why not? They can’t do any harm!
Sadly, I am am not so sure. I see the potential for considerable harm from all the useless SCAMs that are being promoted left right and centre for protecting the public against COVID-19. Firstly, there is the financial harm of paying for products that are useless. Secondly, ineffective effords might distract from finding and adhering to efforts that are effective. Thirdly, believing in a SCAM that does not work will create a sense of false security which, in turn, renders consumers more vulnerable to catch the virus.
As always in healthcare, even harmless interventions that do not work can become dangerous, as they lead to neglecting effective measures. I shudder to think of how many deaths have been caused by the many SCAM merchants who see the current pandemic as an opportunity.
In 2012, we published a systematic review of adverse effects of homeopathy. Here is its abstract:
Aim: The aim of this systematic review was to critically evaluate the evidence regarding the adverse effects (AEs) of homeopathy.
Method: Five electronic databases were searched to identify all relevant case reports and case series.
Results: In total, 38 primary reports met our inclusion criteria. Of those, 30 pertained to direct AEs of homeopathic remedies; and eight were related to AEs caused by the substitution of conventional medicine with homeopathy. The total number of patients who experienced AEs of homeopathy amounted to 1159. Overall, AEs ranged from mild-to-severe and included four fatalities. The most common AEs were allergic reactions and intoxications. Rhus toxidendron was the most frequently implicated homeopathic remedy.
Conclusion: Homeopathy has the potential to harm patients and consumers in both direct and indirect ways. Clinicians should be aware of its risks and advise their patients accordingly.
The paper prompted a number of angry reactions from proponents of homeopathy who claimed, for instance, that homeopathic remedies are highly diluted and thus safe. We responded that homeopaths can nevertheless be dangerous to patients through neglect and bad advice by homeopaths, and that not all homeopathic remedies are highly diluted, and that some might be toxic because of poor quality control of the manufacturing process.
Now, a different group of researchers have looked at the problem from a slightly different angle and with different methodologies. This systematic review and meta-analysis by researchers from NAFKAM focused on observational studies, as a substantial amount of the research base for homeopathy are observational.
Eight electronic databases, central webpages and journals were searched for eligible studies, and a total of 1,169 studies were identified, 41 were included in this review. Eighteen studies were included in a meta-analysis that made an overall comparison between homeopathy and control (conventional medicine and herbs).
Eighty-seven percent (n = 35) of the studies reported adverse effects. They were graded as CTCAE 1, 2 or 3 and equally distributed between the intervention and control groups. Homeopathic aggravations (homeopaths believe that, when the optimal remedy is given, patients will experience an aggravation of their presenting symptoms) were reported in 22,5% (n = 9) of the studies and graded as CTCAE 1 or 2. The frequency of adverse effects for control versus homeopathy was statistically significant (P < 0.0001). Analysis of sub-groups indicated that, compared to homeopathy, the number of adverse effects was significantly higher for conventional medicine (P = 0.0001), as well as other complementary therapies (P = 0.05).
The authors concluded that adverse effects of homeopathic remedies are consistently reported in observational studies, while homeopathic aggravations are less documented. This meta-analysis revealed that the proportion of patients experiencing adverse effects was significantly higher when receiving conventional medicine and herbs, compared to patients receiving homeopathy. Nonetheless, the development and implementation of a standardized reporting system of adverse effects in homeopathic studies is warranted in order to facilitate future risk assessments.
While these results are interesting, they have to be taken with a pinch of salt and beg a number of questions:
- Is there proof that aggravations exist at all?
- How can one differentiate them from adverse effects?
- As even placebos are known to cause adverse effects (nocebo effects), how can one be sure that the adverse effects of homeopathy are not nocebo effects?
- Is it a good reason to focus on largely inconclusive observational studies, because a substantial amount of the research base for homeopathy are observational?
- Can one produce conclusive results by meta-analysing inconclusive studies?
For me, the most impressive findings of this review is that in total 86 studies had to be excluded by the authors because they reported no adverse effects or aggravations. I think this renders the interpretation of the evidence from the 41 studies they did include even more flimsy. In fact, I don’t see how any meaningful conclusion can be drawn at all – except of course that many researchers of homeopathy violate the rules of research ethics by not reporting adverse effects in their studies.
As to aggravations, we clearly need to rely on placebo controlled studies, if we want to find out whether they exist at all. This we have done in our 2003 paper:
Homeopathic aggravations have often been described anecdotally. However, few attempts have been made to scientifically verify their existence. This systematic review aimed at comparing the frequency of homeopathic aggravations in the placebo and verum groups of double-blind, randomised clinical trials. Eight independent literature searches were carried out to identify all such trials mentioning either adverse effects or aggravations. All studies thus found were validated and data were extracted by both authors. Twenty-four trials could be included. The average number of aggravations was low. In total, 50 aggravations were attributed to patients treated with placebo and 63 to patients treated with homoeopathically diluted remedies. We conclude that this systematic review does not provide clear evidence that the phenomenon of homeopathic aggravations exists.
What is interesting, from my perspective, is the fact that the NAFKAM authors chose to ignore our 2012 paper completely (even though it is highly relevant to their paper and was not published in an obscure journal) and elected to completely misinterpret the findings of our 2003 paper (stating this about it: Grabia and Ernst reported a total of 103 cases of homeopathic aggravations in 3437 participants (3%), while, in fact, our paper demonstrated that aggravations are a homeopathic figment of imagination).
I wonder why.
In the past, NAFKAM did not have the reputation of doing research that was overtly biased towards homeopathy. Recently, the head of the team retired and was replaced by Miek C. Jong who is a co-author of the present review (plus head of CAMcancer, an organisation of which I am a founding member and which did, I think, some good work in the past). She happens to have a long history as a homeopath or homeopathic researcher and is co-author of many papers in this area. Here are three of her conclusions:
- The prognostic questionnaire proved a reliable tool to rank 11 homeopathic medicines by total scores, based on keynote symptoms. This PMS algorithm can be used for the treatment of PMS/PMDD in clinical practice.
- Both complex homeopathic products led to a comparable reduction of URTIs. In the CalSuli-4-02 group, significantly less URTI-related complaints and symptoms and higher treatment satisfaction and tolerability were detected. The observation that the use of antibiotics was reduced upon treatment with the complex homeopathic medications, without the occurrence of complications, is interesting and warrants further investigations on the potential of CalSuli-4-02 as an antibiotic sparing option.
- Our systematic evaluation demonstrated that the reporting rate of ADRs associated with anthroposophic and homeopathic solutions for injection is very low. Most reported ADRs were listed, and one quarter consisted of local reactions. These findings suggest a low risk profile for solutions for injection as therapeutically applied in anthroposophic medicine and homeopathy.
Could it be that, within NAFKAM, the attitude towards homeopathy has changed?
Numerous so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) have been touted as the solution for COVID-19. In fact, it is hard to find a SCAM that is not claimed to be useful for corona patients. Crucially, such claims are being made in the complete absence of evidence. A recent paper offers a bibliometric analysis of global research trends at the intersection of SCAM and COVID-19.
SCOPUS, MEDLINE, EMBASE, AMED and PSYCINFO databases were searched on July 5, 2020. All publication types were included, however, articles were only deemed eligible, if they made mention of one or more SCAMs for the potential prevention, treatment, and/or management of COVID-19 or a health issue indirectly resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The following eligible article characteristics were extracted: title; author names, affiliations, and countries; DOI; publication language; publication type; publication year; journal (and whether it is TICAM-focused); 2019 impact factor, and TICAMs mentioned.
A total of 296 eligible articles were published by 1373 unique authors at 977 affiliations across 56 countries. The most common countries associated with author affiliation included:
- the United States,
Four journals had published more that 10 papers each on the subject:
- Chinese Traditional and Herbal Drugs,
- Journal of Biomolecular Structure & Dynamics,
- Zhongguo Zhongyao Zazhi (China Journal of Chinese Materia Medica),
- Pharmacological Research
The vast majority of articles were published in English, followed by Chinese. Eligible articles were published across 157 journals, of which 33 were SCAM-focused; a total of 120 journals had a 2019 impact factor, which ranged from 0.17 to 60.392. A total of 327 different SCAMs were mentioned across eligible articles, with the most common ones including:
- traditional Chinese medicine (n = 94),
- vitamin D (n = 67),
- melatonin (n = 16),
- phytochemicals (n = 12),
- general herbal medicine (n = 11).
The Canadian author concluded that this study provides researchers and clinicians with a greater knowledge of the characteristics of articles that been published globally at the intersection of COVID-19 and SCAM to date. At a time where safe and effective vaccines and medicines for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 have yet to be discovered, this study provides a current snapshot of the quantity and characteristics of articles written at the intersection of SCAM therapies and COVID-19.
If anyone repeated the research today, I fear that the number of different SCAMs would have at least doubled. There is simply no form of SCAM that would not have joined the bandwagon of snake-oil salesmen trying to make a quick buck or satisfying their dangerous delusion of a panacea. Today (11/12/2020) my very quick Medline search on just a few SCAMs resulted in the following:
- Herbal medicine: 253
- Dietary supplement: 139
- Acupuncture: 68
- Homeopathy (not mentioned at all above): 20
- Chiropractic: 13
- Naturopathy: 6
One of the most chilling reads during my ‘rough and ready’ trawl through the literature was an article co-authored by a Viennese professor who has featured repeatedly on this blog. Here is its abstract:
Successful homeopathic prescriptions are based on careful individualization of symptoms, either for an individual patient or collectively in the case of epidemic outbreaks. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was initially represented as a severe acute respiratory illness, with eventual dramatic complications. However, over time it revealed to be a complex systemic disease with manifestations derived from viral-induced inflammation and hypercoagulability, thus liable to affect any body organ or system. As a result, clinical presentation is variable, in addition to variations associated with several individual and collective risk factors. Given the extreme variability of pathology and clinical manifestations, a single, or a few, universal homeopathic preventive Do not split medicine(s) do not seem feasible. Yet homeopathy may have a relevant role to play, inasmuch as the vast majority of patients only exhibit the mild form of disease and are indicated to self-care at home, without standard monitoring, follow-up, or treatment. For future pandemics, homeopathy agencies should prepare by establishing rapid-response teams and efficacious lines of communication.
The Canadian author of the above paper did not analyse how many of the papers he included would make therapeutic claims. I suspect that the majority did. In this context, one of the clearest indications of how deluded SCAM practitioners tend to be during these difficult times was provided by this paper:
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by a new coronavirus, first appeared in late 2019. What initially seemed to be a mild influenza quickly revealed itself as a serious and highly contagious disease, and the planet was soon faced with a significant morbidity and mortality associated with this pathogen. For homeopathy, shunned during its 200 years of existence by conventional medicine, this outbreak is a key opportunity to show potentially the contribution it can make in treating COVID-19 patients. This should be done through performance of impeccably controlled, prospective, randomized clinical trials, with publication of their findings in well-ranked conventional medicine journals. If the homeopathy community fails to take advantage of this rare opportunity, it might wait another century for the next major pandemic.
I must admit, I felt vaguely sick while reading it.
In the last few years, several individuals in Germany have, from entirely different angles, taken a fresh look at the evidence on homeopathy and found it to be desperately wanting. Independent of each other, they published articles and books about their research and insights. Here are 5 examples:
In Sachen Homöopathie: Eine Beweisaufnahme, Norbert Aust, 2013
Homöopathie neu gedacht: Was Patienten wirklich hilft, Natalie Grams, 2015
Inevitably, these individuals came into contact with each other and subsequently founded several working-groups to discuss their concerns and coordinate their activities. Thus the INH and the Muensteraner Kreis were born. So, now we have at least three overlapping groups of enthusiastic, multidisciplinary experts who voluntarily work towards informing the German public that paying for homeopathy out of public funds is unethical, nonsensical and not in the interest of progress:
- the GWUP,
- the INH
- and the Muensteraner Kreis.
No wonder then, that the German homeopathic industry and other interested parties got worried. When they realised that (presumably due to the work of these altruistic enthusiasts) the sales figures of homeopathics in Germany had, for the first time since many years, started declining, they panicked.
Their reaction was, as far as I can see, similar to their previous response to criticism: they started a media campaign in an attempt to sway public opinion. And just like before, they have taken to employing PR-people who currently spend their time defaming all individuals voicing criticism of homeopathy in Germany. Their prime targets are those experts who are most exposed to activities of responsibly informing the public about homeopathy via lectures, publications social media, etc. All of us currently receive floods of attack, insults and libellous defamations. As before (innovation does not seem to be a hallmark of homeopathy), these attacks relate to claims that:
- we are incompetent,
- we do not care about the welfare of patients,
- we are habitual liars,
- we are on the payroll of the pharmaceutical industry,
- we aim at limiting patient choice,
- we do what we do because we crave the limelight.
So, what is going to happen?
I cannot read tea leaves but am nevertheless sure of a few things:
- The German homeopathy lobby will not easily give up; after all, they have half a billion Euros per year to lose.
- They will not argue on the basis of science or evidence, because they know that neither are in their favour.
- They will fight dirty and try to defame everyone who stands in their way.
- They will use their political influence and their considerable financial power.
AND YET THEY WILL LOSE!
Not because we are so well organised or have great resources – in fact, as far as I can see, we have none – but because, in medicine, the evidence is invincible and will eventually prevail. Progress might be delayed, but it cannot be halted by those who cling to an obsolete dogma.
The above text is from a blog post I published 17 moths ago. It seems that my prediction was not wrong. Today, I saw two tweets which suggest that, in Germany, homeopathy is continuing to disappear from the realm of conventional medicine:
- Soeben erreicht mich die Nachricht, dass der Vorstand der Bayerischen Landesärztekammer in der Sitzung am 5.12. einstimmig beschlossen hat, die Zusatzweiterbildung Homöopathie aus der ärztlichen Weiterbildungsordnung zu entfernen. EINSTIMMIG!!!
- 11 von 17 Ärztekammern haben die Homöopathie gekickt. Bleiben noch 6. Die nächste Entscheidung steht in Berlin an.
I’ll translate them for you:
- I have just received the news that the Board of the Bavarian Medical Association has unanimously decided in the meeting on 5.12. to remove the additional training in homeopathy from the medical training regulations. UNANIMOUSLY!!!
- 11 of 17 medical associations have kicked homeopathy. That leaves 6. The next decision is due in Berlin.
This means that in most German counties (there is hope that, sooner or later, the other 6 will follow suit), doctors will no longer be able to train in homeopathy and use the title ‘homeopath’.
Yes, it took a while – about 200 years – but it seems that the German medical profession is finally realising that homeopathy is treatment with placebos.
This systematic review and meta-analysis was aimed at investigating the effect and safety of acupuncture for the treatment of chronic spinal pain.
The authors included 22 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) involving patients with chronic spinal pain treated by acupuncture versus sham acupuncture, no treatment, or another treatment were included. Chronic spinal pain was defined as:
- chronic neck pain,
- chronic low back pain,
- or sciatica for more than 3 months.
Fourteen studies had a high risk of bias, 5 studies had a low risk of bias, and 5 studies had an unclear risk of bias. Pooled analysis revealed that:
- acupuncture can reduce chronic spinal pain compared to sham acupuncture (weighted mean difference [WMD] -12.05, 95% confidence interval [CI] -15.86 to -8.24),
- acupuncture can reduce chronic spinal pain compared to mediation control (WMD -18.27, 95% CI -28.18 to -8.37),
- acupuncture can reduce chronic spinal pain compared to usual care control (WMD -9.57, 95% CI -13.48 to -9.44),
- acupuncture can reduce chronic spinal pain compared to no treatment control (WMD -17.10, 95% CI -24.83 to -9.37).
In terms of functional disability, acupuncture can improve physical function at
- immediate-term follow-up (standardized mean difference [SMD] -1.74, 95% CI -2.04 to -1.44),
- short-term follow-up (SMD -0.89, 95% CI -1.15 to -0.62),
- long-term follow-up (SMD -1.25, 95% CI -1.48 to -1.03).
Trials assessed as having a high risk of bias (WMD −13.45, 95% CI −17.23 to −9.66, I 2 96.2%, moderate-quality evidence, including 14 studies and 1379 patients) found greater effects of acupuncture treatment than trials assessed as having a low risk of bias (WMD −11.99, 95% CI −13.94 to −10.03, I 2 44.6%, high-quality evidence, including 4 studies and 432 patients), but smaller effects than trials assessed as having an unclear risk of bias (WMD −14.51, 95% CI −17.25 to −11.78, I 2 0%, high-quality evidence, including 3 studies and 190 patients).
Only 6 trials provided information on adverse events. No trial reported data on serious adverse events during acupuncture treatment. The most frequent adverse events were temporarily worsened pain and needle pain at the acupuncture site, which can decrease quickly after a short period of rest.
The authors concluded that compared to no treatment, sham acupuncture, or conventional therapy such as medication, massage, and physical exercise, acupuncture has a significantly superior effect on the reduction in chronic spinal pain and function improvement. Acupuncture might be an effective treatment for patients with chronic spinal pain and it is a safe therapy.
I think this is a thorough review which produced interesting findings. I agree with most of what the authors report, except with their conclusions which I find too optimistic. In view of the facts that
- only 5 RCTs had a low risk of bias,
- collectively, the rigorous trials reported smaller effect sizes,
- the majority of trials failed to mention adverse effects which, in my view, casts considerable doubt on their quality and ethical standard,
I would have phrased the conclusion differently: compared to no treatment, sham acupuncture, or conventional therapies, acupuncture seems to have a significantly superior effect on pain and function. Due to the lack rigour of most studies, these effects are less certain than one would have wished. Many trials fail to report adverse effects which reflects poorly on their quality and ethics and prevents conclusions about the safety of acupuncture. In essence, this means that the effectiveness and safety of acupuncture as a treatment of chronic spinal pain remains uncertain.
Bloodletting has been used for centuries in many cultures. Its principle, it was assumed, consisted in re-balancing the body’s four humours. Bloodletting had a detrimental effect on most diseases and must have killed millions. It is a good historical example of the harm that ensues, if healthcare adheres to dogma. Today, we know that bloodletting is useful only in rare conditions such as polycythaemia vera or haemochromatosis (and some 30 years ago, a variation of bloodletting, isovolaemic haemodilution, was being discussed as a treatment for circulatory diseases such as intermittent claudication or stroke).
Yet, in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), there are some practitioners who seem to find it hard to concede that ancient treatments might be not as good as they think. Thus, bloodletting has survived in this realm as a therapy for a wide range of conditions. This study assessed the efficacy of bloodletting therapy (acupoint pricking and cupping) in patients with chronic idiopathic urticaria (CIU) in a randomized, control, parallel-group trial.
A total of 174 patients with CIU were randomized into three groups:
- group A was treated with bloodletting therapy and ebastine (an anti-histamine),
- group B was treated with placebo treatment (acupoint pseudopricking and cupping) and ebastine,
- group C was treated with ebastine only.
The treatment period lasted 4 weeks. An intention-to-treat analysis was conducted, and the primary outcome was the effective rate of UAS7 score being reduced to 7 or below after treatment phase.
The effective rates at the end of treatment phase were different among the three groups, which were
- 73.7% in group A,
- 45.6% in group B,
- and 42.9% in group C.
Multiple analysis indicated differences between groups A and B (P < 0.0125) and groups A and C (P < 0.0125) and no difference between groups B and C (P > 0.0125). No severe bloodletting therapy-related adverse events were observed.
The authors concluded that one month of bloodletting therapy combined with ebastine is clinically beneficial compared with placebo treatment combined with ebastine and treatment with ebastine only. Thus, bloodletting therapy can be an effective complementary treatment in CIU.
How on earth might bloodletting help for CIU? Luckily, the authors have an answer to this question:
The clinical feature of urticaria with wheals and pruritus coming and going quickly is the manifestation of wind-evil that lurks in and circulates with blood. Hence, in the treatment of urticaria, dispersing wind is the one of the principle methods, and treating blood before wind is an important procedure because when blood flows fluently , wind-evil will resolve spontaneously. Bloodletting therapy is a direct and effective way of regulating blood.
You see, it’s all perfectly clear!
In this case, the results must be true. And the argument that patients might have known in which treatment group they had ended up (and were thus not blinded) can be discarded.
I was alerted to an interview published in an anthroposophical journal with Prof. Dr. med. Harald Matthes. He is the clinical director of the ‘Gemeinschaftskrankenhauses Havelhöhe‘, a hospital of anthroposophic medicine in Berlin where apparently some COVID-19 patients are presently being treated. Anthroposophic medicine is a medical cult created by the mystic, Rudolf Steiner, about 100 years ago that lacks a basis in science, facts or common sense. Here is the two passages from that interview that I find most interesting (my translation/explanation is below):
Es gibt bisher kein spezifisches Covid-19 Medikament aus der konventionellen Medizin. Remdesivir führt in Studien zu keinem signifikant verbesserten Überleben, sondern lediglich zu einer milden Symptomreduktion. Die anfänglich große Studie vor allem an Universitätskliniken mit Hydrochloroquin und Azithromycin erbrachte sogar eine Steigerung der Todesrate. Daher haben anthroposophische Therapiekonzepte mit Steigerung der Selbstheilungskräfte eine große Bedeutung erfahren. Wichtige anthroposophische Arzneimittel waren dabei das Eisen als Meteoreisen oder als Ferrum metallicum praep., der Phosphor, das Stibium sowie das Cardiodoron® und Pneumodoron®, aber auch Bryonia (Zaunrübe) und Tartarus stibiatus (Brechweinstein). Die Erfolge waren sehr gut, da in Havelhöhe bisher kein Covid-19 Patient verstorben ist, bei einer sonstigen Sterblichkeit von ca. 30% aller Covid-19-Intensivpatienten…
100 Jahre Bazillentheorie und die Dominanz eines pathogenetischen Medizinkonzeptes haben zu der von Rudolf Steiner bereits 1909 vorausgesagten Tyrannei im Sozialen geführt. Der Mensch hat ein Mikrobiom und Virom, das unverzichtbar für seine Immunität ist und von der Quantität mächtiger als der Mensch selbst (Mikrobiom 1014 Bakterien mit ca. 1200 Spezies z.B. im Darm bei nur 1012 Körperzellen).
Matthes explains that, so far, no medication has been demonstrated to be effective against COVID-19 infections. Then he continues: “This is the reason why anthroposophic therapies which increase the self-healing powers have gained great importance”, and names the treatments used in his hospital:
- Meteoric Iron (a highly diluted anthroposophic remedy based on iron from meteors),
- Ferrum metallicum praep. (a homeopathic/anthroposophic remedy based on iron),
- Phosphor (a homeopathic remedy based on phosphor),
- Stibium (a homeopathic remedy based on antimony),
- Cardiodoron (a herbal mixture used in anthroposophical medicine),
- Pneumodoron (a herbal mixture used in anthroposophical medicine containing).
Matthes also affirms (my translation):
“The success has so far been very good, since no COVID-19-patient has died in Havelhöhe – with a normal mortality of about 30% of COID_19 patients in intensive care…
100 years of germ theory and the dominance of a pathogenetic concept of medicine have led to the tyranny in the social sphere predicted by Rudolf Steiner as early as 1909. Humans have a microbiome and virom that is indispensable for their immunity and more powerful in quantity than humans themselves (microbiome 1014 bacteria with about 1200 species e.g. in the intestine with only 1012 somatic cells)…”
The first 4 remedies listed above are highly diluted and contain no active molecules. The last two are less diluted and might therefore contain a few active molecules but in sub-therapeutic doses. Crucially, none of the remedies have been shown to be effective for any condition.
The germ theory of disease which Matthes mentions is, of course, a bit more than a ‘theory’; it is the accepted scientific explanation for many diseases, including COVID-19.
I have cold sweats when I think of anthroposophical doctors who seem to take it less than seriously, while treating desperately ill COVID-19 patients. If I were allowed to ask just three questions to Matthes, I think, it would be these:
- How did you obtain fully informed consent from your patients, including the fact that your remedies are unproven and implausible?
- If you think your results are so good, are you monitoring them closely to publish them urgently, so that other centres might learn from them?
- Do you feel it is ethical to promote unprovn treatments during a health crisis via a publicly available interview before your results have been formally assessed and published?